Our cartoonist Eric Holland this week (page 29) observed that the Reno City Council is busy cleaning up strip clubs while a far more egregious problem—low income people having to deal with rising rents—goes ignored by the council.
In its messianic drive against the strip clubs, the city has engaged in a little dubious behavior of its own. City Councilmember Jenny Brekhus reported during a public meeting that she had learned the city attorney’s office had hired a private detective and sent its agent into strip clubs looking for negative information. The city attorney is not generally expected to take sides on issues that come before the council but, in this case, not only had a side but seems to have used public funds to make the case for his view.
As nearly every public official in the state knows, the information that comes before officials when they vote on public policy is supposed to be public. How can the public assess the reasons their public officials are voting aye or nay without having that information? Yet City Attorney Karl Hall is withholding it from residents, using an alleged attorney/client relationship as the reason. Strippers are more skilled than Hall at using fig leafs.
“That was commissioned under an attorney-client privilege basis based on [an] investigation in anticipation of litigation,” said Hall’s deputy Chandeni Sendall.
Too bad. The city attorney has no right to generate material that is disclosable under the law and then withhold it. The Reno Police Department had no active investigations of the strip clubs, so it is clear the city attorney was freelancing, and every indication is that its invesigation had to do not with law enforcement but with persuading the council to vote a particular way.
As for the council vote, councilmembers voted to beef up ordinances against the strip clubs in ways that, as This is Reno put it, would “cripple if not eliminate many of the city’s adult businesses. The ordinances would remove alcohol sales at strip clubs within six months of passage, put tighter controls on signs, and potentially force them to move to more industrial areas.”
Using the power of the state to put commercial entities out of business is not an action that should be taken lightly or quickly, yet this particular action came up and was resolved with the kind of speed we seldom see in local government. Moreover, it champions the fussy preferences of one group of citizens over another based solely on the content of the entertainment provided at those businesses.
In addition, the council action was in part a response to complaints by economic development folks who want to lure businesses to Reno. As we have said many times, our culture and economy should be built around the interests of local residents, and those outside our community can then decide whether they like what we like. We should not be tailoring life in Reno to the desires of businesses in Roanoke or San Diego.